The good news is that during Pride Week ministers from several denominations came together for a workshop titled, "Gay Kids? In Our Congregation?" The bad news is the room in Wilmette wasn't filled to capacity. Sixteen people including presenters attended the Wilmette session. The Night Ministry hosted the workshops on two different mornings in Wilmette and Chicago.
According staff organizers, the workshop was publicized throughout the faith community upon which the Night Ministry has drawn its support throughout the years. The Night Ministry was founded in 1976 by an ecumenical coalition of 18 churches to serve youth and adults on Chicago's streets. The goal of the workshop was to start the conversation about how religious institutions can be more welcoming to gay youth.
Using a vignette from the video, It's Elementary as a jumping off point, Barbara O'Neill of the Night Ministry observed that most youth spend a majority of their time in schools. This is the primary setting where youth struggle with sexual orientation and identity issues. Referred to as "questioning" issues by youth workers, there are few safe spaces where these life issues can be worked out.
When questioning issues arise and can't be adequately resolved at home or school kids might end up on the street. O'Neill explained that 60% of runaway youth are struggling with "questioning" issues.
Sexuality, for most Christians, is the elephant in the room that no one wants to talk about, suggested panelist, Rev. Jeffrey Phillips, an openly gay United Church of Christ minister. Nevertheless, participants' discussions underscored Phillips' contention that the LBGT in Christianity is the issue of the day for churches.
"No church is in a vacuum on this issue," said Phillips, who works with congregations on an interim basis when churches are searching for new permanent pastors. He emphasized that congregations need to process their issues about LBGTs in general before they will be perceived as a safe space by youth. Phillips also observed that congregations, more often than not, pay lip service to youth's needs in general and few churches put their money where their mouth is when it comes to youth concerns.
Finally, parents need help to work through their own issues regarding sexuality, he said. All of these steps are necessary before a congregation can consciously proclaim itself as welcoming to LBGT people regardless of age.
Rev. Lloyd Heroff is from of Wrigleyville's Resurrection Lutheran Church—he pastors the oldest Reconciling Evangelical Lutheran congregation in Chicago. Heroff related some of the changes in attitudes he's seen over the years. Having the children of lesbian parents at his church is one sign of these changes.
Parishioners from African American churches have a keen interest in what the Bible says, explained Rev. John Selders, also of the Night Ministry. The "texts of terror" are what motivates the homophobia, thus making a critical task of placing such texts in the proper theological context.
For example, the sin of inhospitality is the real theme of Sodom and Gomorrah, said Rev. Dennis O'Neill, of St. Benedict's Roman Catholic Church. O'Neill suggested liturgy and tradition were opportunities for raising a congregation's consciousness about these issues. O'Neill is also affiliated with the Living Circle, an interfaith spirituality center and chapel serving the LBGT community.
The Living Circle has sponsored exhibits of specially created icons celebrating gay saints. These icons have proved to be extremely popular reminders that throughout history people have lived lives we would today recognize as being gay.